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Lucy the Movie

20 Apr

lucymovieLucy is a movie based on that long-debunked myth that humans only use 10% of their brains, and speculates what someone could do if they used 100%. For a film that purports to be teaching us how the cleverest ever person would see the world, this is a pretty wonky start. If they start with a ‘truth’ that 5 minutes of fact-checking would have overturned, how much should I trust their conclusion?

For a film with such a heavy-weight cast and respected director, it really is the most obvious, surprise-less garbage that I’ve seen in a while. The plot is: Drug gives ordinary girl superpowers. Superpowers make her unstoppable. No one stops her. Movie ends. The most comprehensive and accurate catalogue of its crimes has been provided by Cinema Sins (you should watch that here–warning: lots of implied swearing and spoilers).

But my biggest gripe with the film is the worldview that it tries to pass off as the most enlightened way of seeing the world–the next step in human evolution (‘Lucy’ the human ancestor ape-thing is here a symbol for the first stage of humanity, whereas the Scarlet Johansson Lucy is everything that we could be–the start of a new humanity). And what is this massive step in human enlightenment? Well, it’s 2nd Century gnosticism, basically, or perhaps a variation on one of the many ‘oneness spiritualities’ that the world has seen since.

The basic idea is that our individuality, our separateness, is all an illusion. Deep down we are all part of one basic stuff–whether it is energy, or divine spark, or (in Lucy) just the fact that all matter is made up of atoms and so there are no real boundaries between one thing and another. There Is No Spoon. So if you were clever enough, you would see that you are part of the great Oneness, and you would then have access to all experience and knowledge, and you would eventually merge into Pure Consciousness, as Lucy does in the end. Oh spoiler. Sorry. (I’m not really).

My problem with this is simple. The makers of this film seem to think that they’re cleverer than everyone else to have seen how the world really is (that we are all connected), but they’re really just committing a logical fallacy–the continuum one. The mistake is to assume that because distinctions between things are fuzzy, they do not actually exist at all. In other words, because my body and the air are both collections of atoms, there is really no border between body and air at all–it is all connected.

This is not a new idea (even if the atomic framing of it is comparatively novel), and it is not a function of higher intelligence, as this film cringe-worthily brags. It is a function of that ongoing problem of reconciling the dual human experience of unity and alienation: we are aware that we are connected to one another, to the world, perhaps even to a spiritual, eternal realm, but we also feel unique and special, or (less positively) alone, different, separated.

Gnosticism dealt with this by teaching that difference, baseness and individuality belong in the temporal, material realm, whereas oneness belongs in the spiritual, divine, eternal realm. Other mystical systems tend to have a variation on this theme–enlightenment frees me from the cycle of reincarnation and merges me with nirvana.

In other words, the worldview of this film is not genius. It is the inability to cope with paradox. It cannot find a place for both sides of human experience, so it relegates individuality to the status of ‘illusion’, and assigns oneness the status of ‘divine’.

Christianity? Pffft. That's that thing about a baby that rises from the dead? Yeah man, I'm done with stupid myths.

Christianity? Pffft. That’s that thing about a baby that rises from the dead? Yeah man, I’m done with stupid myths.

Christianity gets a hard time these days, being treated as though it is everything else’s dumber cousin, but it has a way more elegant solution to this paradox. The final end of Christianity is not just to be merged into divine oneness and thus to cease to exist as an individual. Rather, Christianity holds that each of us is a created thing (I’m struggling for a word here–a machine? an artwork? a puzzle piece?) with our own quirky shape and our own rough edges, but rather than being merged into generic eternal goo, we are shaped to fit and play a role in a huge, multi-faceted body. In other words, the way in which we all become one is not by losing ourselves, but by being perfectly the part in the whole that we were created to be. And it is with this community of united individuals that God will be in relationship.

So there is a solution to the paradox that resonates with both facets of human experience, and enables us to affirm true unity and true human individuality. I hesitate to say it, but there is divine genius there if it’s anywhere.

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Ten questions for Captain America

28 Apr
Ha! I can catch your magic shield with my magic arm! Wait, but why didn't that nice doctor give me two of these arms? And the same tech in my legs? And why don't I have one of these indestructible shields?  Why is there only one of everything??

“Ha! I can catch your magic shield with my magic arm! Wait, but why didn’t that nice doctor give me two of these arms? And the same tech in my legs? And why don’t I have one of these indestructible shields? Why is there only one of everything??”

On the recommendation of almost every movie critic in the world (89% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 94% audience rating) we went to watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It was utter garbage, and shame on you for liking it.

If you’ve yet to see it, from here on there are numerous spoilers, which I actually consider a public service to you, but I’m warning you anyway.

Firstly: why the critics liked it. It explores the oh-so-novel theme: ‘Those enemies of freedom must never be allowed to take away our freedom’, via a rebooted Nazi world domination plot (cf. reductio ad hitlerum). Apparently the topical issue of govt invading personal liberty in order to preserve public security is enough depth to get critical buy-in. The fact that the commentary is as complex as ‘I think it’s bad, you guys’, and padded out with 120 minutes of punching, seems not to matter.

But here are some other puzzles that the Marvel Universe threw up this time. In no particular order:

  1. Why is Cap’s shield sentient sometimes? How does it come back?
  2. Why, while shooting endless bullets at Cap’s shield with no effect, does no one think to shoot his legs? “Shoot him in the shield!! … It’s not working! … I know!! I’ll shoot him in the shield!”
  3. Dear pretty CIA nurse lady, if you are a superhero-level marksman (marksperson?) holding a dangerous special-ops guy at gunpoint, is it utterly necessary to stand within knife range?
  4. Why is it interesting to watch two invincible foes fighting each other? It either ends nonsensically or not at all, neither of which seems worth watching to me.
  5. Which sensei did these guys train with? Why in every fight does one hero finally get his deadly hands on his defeated adversary, only to toss him aside like it’s WWE. “I’ve got you right where I want you, so now I shall… throw you away from me to safety!! Take that!!!”
  6. If Nick Fury’s car has windows that can withstand all assault weapons and a swat battering ram for about five minutes, why can Winter Soldier assassinate the pilot of one of SHIELD’s planes through its windscreen with a single shot from a handgun? Why is there only one of everything?
  7. If you’re going to fake your own death, isn’t it a bit risky to do it by getting shot unexpectedly by an assassin that your enemy hired to kill you? And assuming therefore that it was a plan-B situation, who came up with the plan while Fury was busy being mostly dead? And why did the plan maker need to deceive even the doctors who were trying to save his life? To keep the secret very secret? How then did some other lot of doctors who did know the plan get his ‘corpse’ and save his now-even-more-threatened life in time and with no one noticing (so as to ruin the secrecy)?

    Some muppets did this in the live action version too.

    Why, CapAm, why?

  8. Why did the bad guys make their super soldier out of a broken American one that they found lying around instead of a well-made German soldier? Oh and he was also coincidentally Cap’s best friend. Surely this was not all just to manufacture human drama, surely?
  9. If you can make a near-immortal super-soldier with a super-strong bionic arm, and if you can do so even out of left-over soldier casualties, why wouldn’t you make another one, and another? And give them Capn America shields? Why only one hero for each side? Do superheroes get jealous and cannibalise one another? Why is there only one of everything?
  10. Given that Tony Stark is named in connection with the project on which the story is focused, why does he not bring his army of Iron Men to help out when the world is about to go belly up? You know he was going to be near the top of the bad guys’ hit list, but no need for a little warning there? Perhaps he was busy filming Iron Man 3.

And exposition! There’s going to be eleven questions now, it turns out. Why would Hydra go to the trouble of hiding their brains-trust in a hidden lair under old-SHIELD, and yet when the enemies of shield discover it, the brain in question blurts out all their secrets for no reason? When Samson told Delilah that cutting his hair would render him powerless, she at least had to nag him to tears, and even he faked her out three times first.

High-class Reviews!

17 Nov

Because of my roaring social life, I have had time to watch lots more of yesteryear’s television and movies that everyone has already forgotten about. You heard it here last! Reviews of blockbuster movie Pacific Rim, and
TV’s Suits.

Pacific Rim

Director Guillermo Del Toro is best known for giving me diagnosable post-traumatic stress disorder after watching most of Pan’s Labyrinth. Earlier this year, he released the less-disturbing bigger-budget sci-fi behemoth
Pacific Rim.

It’s about huge alien monsters, called Kaiju, who’ve invaded earth via a portal in the sea-floor. To avert their extermination, the humans unite to develop sky-scraper-sized mechwarriors piloted by pairs of synchronous street-fighting humans, who pound the aliens back to where they belong. But now, the monsters are evolving…

It’s full of colossal-scale martial-arts robot-alien battles, wrecking cities in the hope of saving mankind. What’s not to like?

<Minor-plot-hole-spoiler-that-might-ruin-the-movie-if-you-haven’t-seen-it to follow>

One thing.

The sword.

OK two things. The scientists are as annoying and cliched as it is possible to be. But the sword!

An hour into the movie… an hour full of epic battles in which the robots fist-punch the monsters, zap them with plasma weapons, blitz them with missiles, and so on, all of which only seems to annoy the creatures, and which is so dangerous that most of the crews are killed… an hour into this movie, the main surviving team seems to be all out of ammo and out of options when…
the sword.

One of the heroes even says, ‘Oh no, Other Lead Actor, we’re out of options! This is it!’

To which Other Lead Actor responds, ‘No we still have the sword!’

She then activates the sword, they whip it out, and cut the monster clean in half with the first swing. I know it would be a much shorter movie, but shouldn’t they just always be using the sword? They had to punch and kick the aliens through buildings for ages before they even dazed the suckers, but they could have just cut them in two without any effort? They have this 100% effective weapon as a last resort? So much of a last resort that one of them forgets they even have it?

I can’t forgive the sword.

Suits (TV)

Suits is like LA Law for people who were born after LA Law. Except the kid (not the Corbin-Bernsen-looking guy) in this one has law super-powers, and I can’t remember if LA Law had
super-powers in it.

Effectively, Corbin mark2 was supposed to find a new junior associate who would be the Next Big Thing, but all the Harvard graduates were cliches. So he accidentally finds this super-power kid who doesn’t actually have a law degree, but is better at law than all the lawyers.

He wants to hire him as an associate (because that’s the position he was supposed to fill, so what choice did he have?), but he’s not qualified.

What would you do in this situation, especially if you were Harvard-clever?

What’s that? You’d hire him as an associate anyway and find extremely fraudulent and incriminating ways to help him practice law without a licence, making it certain that you would lose your own lawyering licence and destroy the firm in which you’re senior partner if anyone found out? You too?

Because that’s the solution that drives the tension in this show from
episode one onwards.

Me? I’d hire him as a researcher so that I could get him to read all the stuff I didn’t want to, and so that I could take all the credit for his lawyering super-powers, which is mostly what happens anyway. Or, I’d find a way of getting him into Harvard legitimately, seeing as that is exactly what this very lawyer’s boss had done for him.

Again, it would be a shorter and more boring show, but at least it wouldn’t be incredibly stupid.

The Death of ‘Life’

15 Nov

imdb.com registers a user score of 8.1 / 10 for this show after 64 votes. 64 people can’t be wrong I guess.

I had seen a few minutes of the NBC’s ‘Life’ (2007-2009) when it aired here, and then went and found something better to do. But recently a friend lent me his DVDs of the show, expressing dismay that it was cancelled after only two seasons. Having watched some of it now, and being unwilling to phone my friend to tell him personally, here are some of the possible reasons for canning it. (My friend sometimes reads this blog, and I really don’t like phones).

1. Background Music

It’s been repeated often enough how much of an influence music has on mood. There is a whole genre of YouTube video dedicated to changing the soundtrack of familiar movies in order to make comedies seem like horrors etc. My favourites include the horror version of ‘The Sound of Music’, and some of the many ‘Dumb and Dumber’-as-a-thriller versions, such as this one and this one.

Given that the role of music is so well documented, the soundtrack to ‘Life’ is baffling. It’s like instead of choosing music, they’ve just left the radio on. It’s like they’ve seen hip TV shows that have cool soundtracks with ‘the Next Big Thing’ playing over the emotional montage scene each week, but they’ve decided to go for ‘the Next Best Thing’, which is to get any pop music that was available for free, and then to put the music player on ‘shuffle’ instead of hiring a music co-ordinator.

It almost makes it worth watching the show just to be amazed at the music choices.

2. That episode with the girl in angel wings

So you’re writing a TV show, and you have this idea about the exploitation of Russian brides, and you have one of them thrown out of a tall building while wearing angel wings. So far so good. If you’re an exceptionally lazy writer, what do you do next (besides sleeping until half-an-hour before deadline)?

You litter the script with 3 fallen-angel jokes per minute.

3. That episode with the computers in it

I know very little about computers. They are quite complicated things.

You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous...

You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous…

But whoever wrote ‘Life’ is the computer-equivalent of Dürer’s woodcut drawing of a rhinoceros based entirely on 2nd-hand information. They’ve got the gist of the thing, but the details are all really sketchy.

A back-horn?

So in one episode, the following happens:

  • Detective Charlie wants to sneak into classified computer files guarded by a tech geek. So he sneakily spills energy drink onto the keyboard of one of the computers. Result? A sticky keyboard? Nope, every computer screen in the network starts flashing and scrolling like they’re running Vista. Tech guy runs in a panic to go fix them (tech guys never do this), and he leaves his own console logged in to deeply classified information.
  • Bad Kid 1 has hidden his drug selling information on his gaming console. To access it, someone has to get to level 10 of ‘Prince of Persia’. Why the heck would you do that? Every time you want to record a sale, you’ve got to play ten laborious levels of the same game? There’s not even any suggestion that this is his archive; it’s the only copy of a detailed spreadsheet, hidden behind ten game levels.
  • The cops suspect there’s something hidden in this game in the first place, because there is a file on Bad Kid’s regular computer that keeps getting referred to, and it turns out to be this reference to ‘level 10’. Why would anyone need to record a note-to-self that they’ve hidden the info there, let alone making continual reference to it? I only saw the show once (days ago), and I can remember what level it was on. He put it there and he needs a reminder?
  • They need someone who can beat 10 levels of Prince of Persia, and so they ask Tech Geek if he can. He trots out the awful cliche about how he’s thirty and still lives with his mother and has Star Trek outfits in his cupboard, so obviously he can play console games. That’s bad enough, but he then spends try after try getting no further than level 2.
  • Dectective Charlie — because he’s an idiot savant — notices that Bad Kid’s sister is watching them play and making ghost movements with her thumbs as though she’s holding the controller. Instead of admitting her to hospital for a neurological disorder, he deduces that she’s actually brilliant at Prince of Persia. Who ghost-plays console games when they’re standing around watching??
  • When she reaches Level 10, the spreadsheet automatically splits the game apart and shows all its secrets. What if someone just wants to play Level 11? Also, he couldn’t code a hard-to-see easter-egg-type button to access the spreadsheet, rather than letting his illegal document reveal itself by default? Doesn’t seem that secure. What if his sister and her friends were playing when he was at college? She seems to like playing it.
  • When they’ve analysed the spreadsheet, the leads don’t pan out and they hit a dead end, so Charlie phones this other computer-nerd analyst at the station to ask if they’ve ‘missed something’. Nerd complains that they haven’t and he’s too tired and he doesn’t want to look anymore. Charlie threatens to pound him senseless, but in a Zen way, and the nerd gets all sweaty and afraid. Three seconds later he says, hang on, there’s this entire column of data here that now looks fishy to me. Twenty seconds later Charlie’s solved the case (Bad Kid was having an affair with his kidnapper’s mom who was just jealous for his mother’s love — it’s all there in the column).

In summary, that’s a whole lot of stupid to pack into one episode, especially when the writers could have fact-checked with literally anyone and improved it.

But, er, thanks for lending it to us, bro, we really enjoyed it. >ahem<

Sleeping Beauty, or The Stupidest Story Ever Told

21 Feb

Also known as, ‘Dang, King Stefan, Take a Friggin Breath’.

sb01

Sleeping Beauty is a classic tale that has survived centuries of retellings, but seems to be, at least as the story is told in the condensed-book-of-the-film-of-the-book version, a catalogue of the stupidest possible responses to one of the stupidest possible evil plans.

As a monument to this bizarre nonsense I present to you the story page-by-page as it is told in the book, followed by the script as it would be if there were characters with a smidgen of common sense.

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